The $1T bipartisan infrastructure bill is now law. What can it do for Routt County? |

The $1T bipartisan infrastructure bill is now law. What can it do for Routt County?

Crews install infrastructure for Luminate broadband in June within the Steamboat II neighborhood west of Steamboat Springs. The infrastructure bill signed Monday by President Joe Biden will allocate $65 billion in funds to provide more widespread access to broadband internet, including in Colorado.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

With a final price tag of $1 trillion, President Joe Biden signed a long-awaited, bipartisan infrastructure bill Monday that some are calling the biggest such investment in a generation.

The bill included $110 billion for roads and bridges, $65 billion for broadband and $73 billion to upgrade the power grid, though details are limited as to how funds will be allocated. Still, the bill’s passage has local officials excited about how the money will trickle down to Routt County.

“Communities, states (and) cities have been waiting on this; economic developers have been waiting for years, decades, to really see a serious investment in infrastructure,” said John Bristol, economic development director for the Steamboat Springs Chamber. “By and large, those dollars are going to flow through existing federal grant programs.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed 69-30 in the U.S. Senate, with 19 Republican votes, and 228-206 in the U.S. House of Representatives, with 13 Republican votes, though the compromise for support from Republicans pared down much of the spending originally proposed.

In all, it will bring about $3.7 billion to Colorado for roads, $225 million to replace bridges, $916 million to improve public transportation, $100 million for broadband, $688 million for water infrastructure and $57 million for electric vehicle charging, among other money.

How much of that will come to Routt County specifically is yet to be seen, Bristol said. The money is being allocated largely through two avenues: formula funding that looks at population and road mileage, and through a competitive grant process, where communities at all levels will vie for the funding.

Most of the spending in the plan is spread out over the next five years, so it will likely take some time before it filters to local projects.

“I think there will be some expectations across the country that we’re going to see massive projects happening fast, but that is not necessarily the way government works,” Bristol said.

In general, Colorado’s infrastructure gets a C- grade from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Routt County oversees about 850 miles of roads, mostly unpaved, and 106 different bridges, not including major thoroughfares under the jurisdiction of other entities.

“I think they do pretty good on maintenance, but it’s always a challenge, and the same goes for the city,” Bristol said.

Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said one thing that comes to mind with the infrastructure would be overlaying more of the county’s gravel roads. Corrigan said while the cost of maintaining a gravel and paved road are almost the same, it is the larger upfront costs that are difficult to shoulder.

“We as local governments can do a really good job of figuring out how to take care of what we’ve got,” Corrigan said. “It’s that first, initial cost that’s the hurdle that we can’t get over.”

Addressing climate resiliency was another opportunity Corrigan said he sees in the infrastructure law. Corrigan wondered what kind of assistance they may be able to get to electrify the county’s fleet of vehicles. Part of the plan hopes to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles by devoting money specifically for charging stations.

Megan Moore-Kemp, energy solutions manager with Yampa Valley Electric Association, said, while they are still studying the details of the plan, they are excited about some of the opportunities for charging stations and making the electric grid more resilient.

The electric co-op already has put stations on its campuses in Steamboat Springs and Craig, as well as in the town of Yampa, and it has applied for state funding to put more in Craig and on Yampa Street in Steamboat.

“We’re excited to really dig into it and see how we can leverage it to help our communities,” Moore-Kemp said.

Like the county, larger upfront costs are a hurdle for the city of Steamboat, as well. Steamboat Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said there are several larger capital expenses coming up he hopes the infrastructure plan could help with.

This is the case for a lot of rural transit agencies, Flint said, which has led to a lot of competition for grants, and, when awarded, the grants are likely to cover less of an expense.

“Most of our grants are 80% federal with a 20% local. Sometimes, they are only able to do a 50-50 grant, so that creates more of a challenge with the local match,” Flint said. “I think that it’s going to allow a lot of these real projects to move forward.”

Buses purchased by the city — for about $700,000 — are expected to have a 10-year lifespan. Flint said the bus is refurbished to extend its life another 10 years, which costs about $300,000 to $400,000.

“That’s one of the big projects,” he said, referring to replacing four of the city’s buses from the early 2000s. “Getting federal assistance to purchase those buses is really great for a smaller community like ours.”

Flint said he also hopes some of the $916 million for Colorado designated for public transportation may assist efforts to start a regional transit authority, a project that already has received some planning grants. Looking even further out, Flint said he would eventually like to get fully electric buses for at least some of the routes.

One of those buses costs about $900,000, but Flint said storage and charging infrastructure would also be needed, making the change a significant financial commitment.

“The biggest benefit is that it allows us to do some longer-term planning,” Flint said. “When you get in situations where your funding for both capital and operating is driven through the general fund, it makes it a little more challenging to do multiyear projects.”

There is about $688 million in the plan for water projects in Colorado, which has already been invoked in county meetings as a potential funding source for two wastewater treatment projects in Phippsburg and Milner. The White House says this spending is meant to ensure all Americans have access to clean drinking water.

The town of Oak Creek is looking at a hefty $13 million price tag when looking at repairs it needs to make to its drinking water supply, Sheriffs Reservoir.

“I’m really excited about the potential for Oak Creek to maybe be able to address the Sheriffs Reservoir issue, which is a much bigger dollar number than anything we could ever generate here,” Corrigan said.

The White House says the infrastructure law also hopes to connect every American to high-speed internet, sending $100 million to Colorado to connect 85,000 residents who currently don’t have connectivity.

“Everyone needs stable, reliable, affordable internet to have a high-quality life anymore. For schooling, business, work, health care … it’s essential,” Moore-Kemp said.

Moore-Kemp said because of the track record that Yampa Valley Electric Association and Luminate Broadband have and the level of fiber optic internet they are installing, they are “well positioned to leverage this opportunity.”

Installing broadband in Northwest Colorado is particularly difficult because of the rugged terrain, which can make installation less cost efficient for consumers and producers. That is why high-dollar funds for broadband are created, and the infrastructure investment is “a sign the federal government sees internet as an essential service,” Moore-Kemp said.

“We’ve already had opportunities to successfully partner with local, state and federal entities to deliver much needed broadband, and we have a great track record with that,” she said. “We’re expecting that this historic investment will be a continuation of those successes.”

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